Monday, December 19, 2005

Microsoft hires user interface guru

This just in from steve: Microsoft hires user interface guru Bill Buxton, formerly of Alias Wavefront and long HCI history. He's being hired by MS Research, of course, and will work on ubiquitous computing ("ubicomp"), as so many people do these days.

This is an entertaining paragraph close: Buxton in the past has been critical of software companies' failure to integrate appropriate design processes into products. However, he said that Microsoft is hiring more designers, which is encouraging. "My sense is that Microsoft is in transition from an engineering-led company to as much a design-led company," he said. "There are more designers at Microsoft on any single team as there were, not too long ago, in the entire company. It's a wonderful change."

I followed up his criticism, and found this right-on abstract for a talk he gave at Graphics Interface 2005 on exactly this topic:

...We are now seeing articles appearing that are warning about the danger of a schism in user-centred design (UCD) between the ethnography and usability camps. (See for example the spring issue of Interactions.) The apparent voice of reason points out that both have distinct roles: ethnography can feed design, while usability can evaluate it. All very nice as far as it goes. But what is missing is any detailed consideration of who actually does the design. There is something missing.

In this talk I want to speak to both the role and nature of design in the overall process. Along the way, I will argue a few points, including the claim that usability and ethnography are distinct from design. Relevant to design? Yes. Design? Decidedly not. I will also speak to the whole nature of iterative design, and argue why iterative and incremental software engineering practices such as extreme programming and agile software techniques are not the same as design. Again, relevant? Yes. Design? Absolutely not.

As I will show, the software industry has an abysmal record at creating new products. I will argue that the absence of anything vaguely resembling a design process is a key reason. My talk is directed at altering this situation.

I can't wait to see what he thinks about working at Microsoft after a couple of years! Now if only more companies understood the distinction between usability and design and how to operationally overcome the issue in a way that led to product success.

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